Monday, December 31, 2007

Auld Lang Syne

Happy New Year everyone.

Friday, December 28, 2007

I Am Omega

Just found this trailer for I Am Legend rip-off I Am Omega at

I've got a soft spot for Mark Dacascos but this does make the Will Smith film look like the greatest film ever made.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Merry Christmas

My internet connection is a bit hit and miss at the moment due to my phoneline playing up. So I'll just quickly say Merry Christmas to everyone now in case I don't manage to get back online before the horrors, sorry, the festivities are over.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Am Legend

I saw the press screening of I Am Legend recently. It's not bad. They've taken some liberties with the plot, the vampires (or dark-seekers as they are here) are composed of some of the worst CGI ever committed to celluloid and there's some drippily sentimental scenes but overall it's okay.

Will Smith is pretty good as Robbie Neville, showing his mental state gradually deteriorating due to his isolation -- in some respects the film is Castaway with vampires. The problem is the film tries so hard with the quiet scenes that they start to drag on and then the filmmakers overcompensate with the action scenes with bullets flying everywhere and explosions that engulf entire city blocks. (Admittedly it's only at the end of the film that this tendency gets completely out of control.)

The vampires themselves seem inconsistent in terms of intelligence and their physical abilities. And as I said the CGI is bloody awful.

The worst thing though is the ending. I won't give it away but be prepared for it to be nothing like the novel.

The people I saw it with all hated the film much more than I did saying that it had been turned into a typical Will Smith vehicle. But I think there's a simple antidote to that attitude. Whenever you think the film is getting a little too glib or is focusing too much on the action in order to make Smith look good just think how much worse it would have been if it had been made with the original choice of star. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Frank Whittle and the Jet Engine

Apparently Frank Whittle is gradually being erased from the history of the jet engine. Even though he invented the bloody thing the credit is going to German and American inventors who were working from Whittle's blueprints. Whittle deserved better than that so here's a link to a website commemorating his work.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007


Not heard much about this proposed new TV series but Joss Whedon and Eliza Dushku are supposed to be involved so I'm quietly excited.

Friday, November 09, 2007


Surprises can be fun.

My old copies of Crime Time sometimes surprise me. Although the magazine is still going strong I just don't have enough money to keep buying it so I'm reduced to browsing through my back issues. And although I must have read them a million times I still get surprised.

I'll have forgotten about the comics related stuff such as the features on Garth Ennis, Frank Miller and Paul Grist, and the interview with Alan Moore. I'll also have forgotten about the reviews of novels by John Connolly, Joe Lansdale, Lee Child and Stephen Hunter.

And because my tastes have broadened even the stuff I remember takes on a new relevance -- the reviews of Robert B Parker novels and the interviews with Ed McBain and Lawrence Block.

But recently I picked up anew issue of CT. Well, new to me anyway; a 2003 back issue that I picked up in a charity shop.

A whole issue of CT that I had never read. I rushed home to read it, to savour its myriad new surprises.

Ooo, look, a Lee Child interview! Reviews of books I've read and enjoyed (by Lee Child, Alan Moore, Harlan Coben) and other books I'm hoping to read soon (by Robert Crais and Dashiell Hammett).

But then the really big surprise.

This issue had a feature on The Mammoth Book of Future Cops, an anthology I had a story in. Admittedly I don't get a mention, the feature quite understandably focusing on authors people may actually have heard of such as Philip K Dick and Joe Haldeman, but it was nice to see the book did actually receive some publicity when it came out. The only press exposure I remember seeing at the time was a capsule review in SFX which again focused on the big name authors such as Stephen Baxter and China Mieville.

So, even though the CT feature didn't show my name in GIANT FUCKING LETTERS this was still a nice reminder of one of my more successful stories.

A pleasant surprise.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I Hate Computers

I've been offline for a while due to my anti-virus software telling me I had a virus. The instructions I got for removing the virus made absolutely no sense, even if the website hadn't decided to format them so that my printer chopped off the end of each sentence (printer friendly format my arse). So I had to wait for my mate Chris, who deals with all my I.T. problems, to take a look. Unfortunately it took a while for us to both be free at the same time so my computer has been lying dormant for God knows how long.

Anyway, Chris finally managed to take a look at my computer and after much effing and blinding on his part he discovered that the virus didn't actually exist, the anti-virus software was just playing silly buggers. So I could have used the computer the whole time after all and had wasted several weeks of various writing based activities for absolutely no reason whatsoever. My, how I laughed.

My mirth increased when I discovered that while I was offline my email inbox had exceeded its limit and was bouncing back anything that was sent to me. While on the one hand this has probably saved me having to delete an inordinate amount of spam it also means I don't know how many genuine emails I've lost.

So if anyone's sent me an email recently and hasn't received a reply chuck me another one and I'll try to get back to you ASAP.

Assuming my computer lets me.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Robert B Parker

I'm currently mildly addicted to Robert B Parker novels.

Parker's best known for his Spenser novels. The tough but sensitive private eye solves crimes with the help of his psychiatrist girlfriend Susan and his hitman pal, Hawk.

Then there's the Sunny Randall series about a female PI. In amongst bodyguarding duties and solving murders Sunny's trying to cope with her recent divorce. This isn't helped by the fact that her ex-husband has connections with the local crime syndicate. Or by the fact that she still loves him.

And there's the Jesse Stone books with a divorced, alcoholic L.A. detective trying to build a new life for himself as a small town police chief.

All the books contain sparse, no nonsense prose and reams of witty dialogue. Action scenes are fairly minimal in the books I've read, although it's mandatory for the middleaged Spenser to have at least one scene per book where he uses his boxing skills to prove he can beat up men half his age. To balance up Spenser's machismo there's lots of literary references, most of which I'm too stupid to get.

Parker seems to have a lot of time for psychotherapy, with both Sunny and Jesse regularly seeing shrinks to help cope with their respective divorces. Spenser meanwhile has lengthy discussions with Susan which she fills with psychobabble. This emphasis on the characters analysing their feelings openly and honestly pretty much kills any subtext but Parker peppers the books with oneliners to compensate.

Therapy sessions aside it's nice that Sunny and Jesse have personal problems, it gives the stories an edge lacking in the latest Spenser novels. The saintly Spenser seems to have pretty much resolved all his emotional problems in previous novels (which I haven't read) so now he and Susan have a blissful loving relationship. Which is all well and good but it can get a bit boring. And after their umpteenth proclamation of love and endless reminders of how attractive they are and how great their sex life is and how they are both strong, resourceful people with careers which they find completely rewarding they can come across as a little smug.

And then there's the feeling that the plots are pretty formulaic. Parker had written over 50 novels and it must be getting hard to keep coming up with new ideas. He does his best though. Even though the various 'tecs always solves their cases they don't always manage to bring the criminals to justice.

Anyway, the books are good fun. I think it's going to be a while before the novelty wears off.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Larry Hartsell RIP

Just heard that Larry Hartsell passed away on 20th August.

Hartsell was a big name in martial arts. He studied under kenpo godfather Ed Parker and kung fu legend Bruce Lee. He served as a military policeman in Vietnam and bodyguarded various movie stars. He also pioneered grappling in the martial arts long before the Gracies and the Ultimate Fighting Championship made it fashionable.

I once went to one of his seminars. As he warmed up in preparation for the seminar he chatted amiably to me and a handful of the other students. We were all too awestruck to respond properly. Then, despite being jetlagged after his flight from America, he took us through a wide variety of techniques from judo and kali. Most of the stuff went right over my head (although I'm still hoping to use one of the knifefighting techiques he made us practice in a story one day) but his skill shone through.

It was a shock to hear of his death. My condolences to his family and friends.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Holy Horrors

Just heard that I've had a story accepted for Holy Horrors. This is an anthology of religious themed horror stories (just thought I'd mention that in case you couldn't figure it out from the title) edited by T.M. Wright and Matt Cardin.

Dead chuffed about this. The final contents list hasn't been officially announced yet but from what I understand there are several big names involved. And me.

Friday, August 17, 2007


I've finally got round to getting a myspace page. It's still a bit rough round the edges but it's at if anyone fancies taking a look.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

What a Blunt

Are you one of those people who thinks James Blunt lacks street cred? Then you obviously haven't seen this.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Take two posts into the shower?

Here's my reply to some comments on outlining stories in a discussion on the John Connolly message boards. Reusing it here is a lot easier than coming up with something original. Lazy, me?

>>Every now and again I get images and flashes of scenes, which I work toward. But they hardly ever end up in the finished story.

I think a lot of people tend to see outlining vs. making it up as you go as much more separate concepts than they really are. If you're outlining you don't have to stick to your outline, if you get a better idea once you start writing then use it. Similarly if you're making it up as you go and an idea suddenly pops into your head the idea isn't necessarily going to be something you can use at that exact moment in the story, you have to keep hold of the idea until you can fit it in, usually by steering the story towards scenes that will support that idea. Even if the idea is closely related to the scene you're writing -- e.g. "Hey, I just thought of a great way to end this scene!" -- you've still got to write the rest of the scene first and that means you're planning, if only only a very small scale.

Personally even when I'm working from a very detailed outline it tends to deal more with story structure than the actual words I'm going to use. So there's still a lot of improvisation in terms of the dialogue and descriptive writing.

Michael Moorcock discusses this at length in Death is No Obstacle. He is a big fan of outlining a story's structure but he still makes things up as he goes. He likens it to jazz improvisation, if he finds that he has used a few similies or metaphors relating to say, mirrors he doesn't think, "Oh crap, I'd better change that so I'm not constantly repeating myself" instead he turns it into a motif and tries to tie it in with the themes of the story.

Sorry, I'm not trying to come across a know-it-all, I realise that the writing process is different for everyone. A lot of times when I said "you" in this post I probably should have said "I" but I was just trying to give my ramblings a little more sense of immediacy.

Basically there's no one surefire way to write a story. Just use whatever works for you. But if your usual method suddenly stops working for whatever reason (it's happened to me) remember that there's other methods out there you can experiment with until normal service is resumed.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Illusions of Style

One thing I neglected to mention when moaning about book length is font size. Generally speaking old books seem to contain smaller typeface which obviously helps contribute to their shorter page count. Although there are exceptions to this. A year or two back I read a David Baldacci novel which was over 600 pages long and had a typeface so small you'd have trouble reading it with an electron microscope. I had a headache by the time I finished reading that bastard.

Another important factor when it comes to long books is writing style. Some long books seem shorter as they have a breezier style. I recently read John Connolly's The Unquiet and found it a joy to read, much easier to digest than his previous novel in the Charlie Parker series. Although admittedly I wasn't in the best of moods when I read The Black Angel which might go some way as to explaining why I didn't enjoy it as much. But anyway Connolly claims that although a lot of people found TU the quicker read it is actually the same length as TBA. (My copy of TU seems to be shorter but that may be due to the difference in page size between paperbacks and hardbacks.) Connolly says that he took a different approach to writing the two novels as TBA was an epic novel full of metaphysical conceits and a sprawling plot that spanned the decades plus two continents whereas TU was a much more intimate affair. Therefore TBA just feels longer.

Coincidentally I recently read an old interview with Lee Child and he said that for his first novel The Killing Floor he deliberately avoided using long sentences as he didn't want to do anything to alienate his readers. He was trying to sell the novel before his redundancy money ran out and he didn't want to do anything to jeopardise his chances. Once he sold the first novel his style seems slightly less clipped but based on the novels I've read he's still making sure that you don't need a degree in English Literature to understand his prose.

And legend has it that James Ellroy created his staccato pseudo-beatnik style after the manuscript for one of his novels was too long and his agent advised him to cut out all the unnecessary words. This allowed him to cram tons of plot into a single book.

Of course if had been a Fanatasy novel his agent would have told him not to change a single word. They'd just cut the book into three sections and sell it as a trilogy.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Long And The Short Of It

I think one of the reasons I got pissed off with some of the books I've been reading for the last couple of years is that they seem so bloody long. As I've been sorting through my bookshelves recently I've noticed that a lot of my old books are only about 250 pages long. Nowadays it's hard to find anything under 350.

Not that I used to seek out short books, it's just that most of the writers I liked tended to write shorter novels. Which did me a favour because when I did read a long book I didn't feel any pressure to get it finished quickly in order to make time for all the other massive tomes I needed to read. The way I do now.

Now I know you're thinking, "Hang on, 350 pages isn't long!" And you're right, it isn't. But when the shortest books I can readily find are all 100 pages longer than what I used to read it soon starts to mount up. Especially as all the books that used to be 350 pages are now around 500 pages.

It used to be that if I didn't like a book I didn't mind so much because I hadn't wasted much time on it but now I'm ploughing through 500 odd pages in the hope that the story will turn out to be halfway decent. (Okay, I should be able to tell if the story's any good well before I finish the 500 pages but unless the story is truly awful I like to give the author the benefit of the doubt.) Whereas when I waded through Crime and Punishment as a teenager only to decide that Russian literature wasn't really my thing I didn't feel too bad, I still had lots of other novels that I could zip through.

I miss being able to do that. I miss being able to read a Michael Moorcock trilogy in a weekend. (Admittedly, that 's probably longer than it took him to write it.) Because then I had plenty of time left to tackle the longer stuff. And also because I like to reread stuff. Back in the day I read Dune three times; if I was going to attempt a book of similar size now I'd have to check my diary to see if I had time to read it even once.

I don't mind if a book is long because it needs to be but a lot of them feel padded. Even with authors I like such as Stephen Hunter and Lee Child I'm often left thinking that their longer books don't really need to be edging towards 600 pages.

I'm guessing a lot of this is due to the publishers. They think that the punters want long books. And seeing as the rare 250 page book that does get published these days go for the same price as a 500 pager then yes, the public probably do want longer books if only to feel that they're getting their money's worth. Because it won't occur to the publishers to charge less money for a book unless it's part of a promotional offer.

So a lot of modern books put me off with their length. Most of the cutting edge SF writers I hear about produce books the size of housebricks. The same with Fantasy (and then it's usually the first instalment of a bloody trilogy.) I think Horror might not be so bad, although to be honest I don't read a lot of Horror novels. Of course back in the Eighties and Nineties Horror novels were bloody massive in order to emulate Stephen King. There was an old Jonathan Carroll interview where he said he'd been interested in writing a full-blown Horror novel until his publisher told him it would have to be at least 600 pages. Carroll decided to stick with his usual Dark Fantasy stuff.

Anyway, I'd better stop now as I've just realised that this post is about three times longer than I intended it to be. Oh, the irony ...

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Our survey said ...

There's been some comments made over on John Connolly's message board that not many SF/F/H fans have heard of him as most of his novels are marketed as crime. Just out of curiosity how many of you had heard of him before I mentioned him here? And out of those who had heard of him how many realised that his novels contain a supernatural element?

Thursday, July 26, 2007

John Connolly on Youtube

Quick interview with John Connolly chatting about signings, violence in thrillers and deep themes vs. entertainment value in novels.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Robot Chicken

Stumbled across the Robot Chicken Star Wars spoofs on Youtube. Some are funnier than others but this is probably my favourite.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Sod it

I'm fed up reading stories I don't enjoy.

Time was I enjoyed nearly everything I read. Oh, there'd be the occasional misstep where a book would catch my eye and then fail to deliver upon its promise but for the most part my reading experiences were happy ones. But for quite a while I've found more and more books are leaving me dissatisfied. And I think I know why.

More people are recommending books to me than ever before.

As a child discovering a new author was often a happy accident. Stories on Jackonary would catch my interest, a film I enjoyed would be novelized, or I might spy a book in the local library and closer inspection would lead me to believe that I would enjoy reading it. And of course people would recommend books to me.

But these recommendations were reasonably scarce, tending to come from only one or two trusted sources, friends who shared similar tastes to my own. Nowadays I'm constantly assailed by people badgering me to read their favourite authors. And it's not just people I actually talk to, it's the people on message boards and websites and newsletters and magazines and all the other stuff that I never used to bother with as a child. All of them saying, "You must read this new book!"

This would be a lot easier to ignore if it wasn't for the fact that I'm a writer. As a reader I can just read whatever I want to read and to hell with what anyone else thinks. But as a writer I'm supposed to have a solid background in all kinds of fiction. I'm supposed to be wellversed in the classics, to have a thorough knowledge of the history of the various genres that I write in as well as keeping up to date with all the current developments in those same genres. Plus, I'm supposed to read outside these genres in order to prevent myself merely recycling the cliches of the kinds of fiction that I write.

So when people tell me about an author who is a literary genius or whose work had a profound effect on a particular genre or who is currently redefining a genre I add that author's name to the list of stuff I'm supposed to be reading. Which means I'm relying on other people's recommendations on what I should read instead of my own judgement. Hence my reading so much stuff that I don't actually enjoy.

Now as a writer I'm not supposed to actually enjoy everything I read, the reading is supposed to be part of my work. But -- and I don't know if I'm alone in this -- I find that the more stuff I read that I don't enjoy then the less I actually write. The dreariness of the work I'm reading permnates my entire being and robs me of any desire to write any stories of my own. Now you can say this is just my excuse for being a lazy bastard, and you wouldn't be entirely wrong, but it is true that the less I enjoy the stories I'm reading then the harder I find the writing process.

Therefore I am currently saying the hell with it and am concentrating on reading stories that I think I will like and not what other people tell me I should like.

So there.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Quick thoughts on some films I watched recently:

Die Hard 4.0. Okay, I'm of the school of thought that says they should have stopped making Die Hard films after the first one as they're never going to improve upon it. So I tried to view this less as a Die Hard sequel and more as the continuing adventures of John McClane. That way I'm not constantly judging it against one of my all-time favourite action films. (Yes, I'm aware that this is a bullshit rationalization that only makes sense inside my own mind but it's my mind so I can do what I like in there.)


Good things about the film: Justin Long is a likeable sidekick, and his presence isn't just shoehorned into the film like Samuel L Jackson in the previous film. The FBI chief isn't a complete moron like most authority figures in action films; he actually comes across as good at his job, it's not his fault that the villain is even better at his. And, most importantly, Maggie Q looks great in her slinky black outfits.

Bad things about the film: Kevin Smith's dire cameo. The increasingly ludicrous action scenes -- I'd be watching them thinking, "Yeah, that's great, just stop there and that'll be a pretty cool scene. No, seriously, stop 'cos if it goes on any longer ... okay, they've ruined it." And Bruce Willis's invulnerability -- there's one bit where Willis and one of the bad guys receive almost identical injuries yet the villain dies and Willis just gets a flesh wound.

Hot Fuzz. To be fair I was a bit tired when I watched this but my initial reation is that it's nowhere near as good as Shaun of the Dead. Too much stunt casting. Not enough decent jokes. All the supporting characters are caricatures. The hero is too uptight to actually do anything to get the audience to sympathise with him -- and if he's such a wonderful supercop why does it take him so long to unravel such a simple case? The references to action movies are blatantly signposted and are used as a substitute for characterization. The shift in tone from Heartbeat to Midsomer Murders to generic action flick never really convinces. I could go on but I can't be bothered. Now that my hopes have been dashed I might watch it again and enjoy it on its own terms but right now I can't help but feel that Pegg, Frost and Wright just pissed about while making this film, relying on the good will from Shaun to produce good box office.

X-Men: The Last Stand. After the panning this film got from the critics I'm surprised how much I enjoyed it. Granted, it's no masterpiece and it's riddled with plotholes and bad acting but it never seemed to become truly awful. Yes, Cyclops is criminally underused yet again. Yes, Vinnie Jones cannot act to save his life. Yes, Magneto's characterization veers inconsistently from one scene to the next. Yes, the film has not one but two cop-out endings (watch right to the end of the final credits). Yes, it expects you to care about characters who have bugger all screentime (the Beast, Angel, Kitty Pryde, Collossus and a cast of what seems like thousands). But somehow it captures the spirit of the comics better than Singer's efforts. While Singer made the better films they felt more like SF films than X-Men films. X3 feels more like the comics. Not the best of the comics to be sure but it did capture that sense of leading inexorably to a massive super-battle that is pretty much the cornerstone of superhero comics -- "We're dealing with complex ethical issues here which should be discussed in a mature and rational ... oh, sod this. FIGHT!!!"

Admittedly, from what I understand Singer was planning to take X3 in a similar direction anyway and he probably would have made a much better job of it than Brett Ratner. And I'm pretty sure X3 won't stand up to repeated viewing (I've already had someone point out a major plothole that I hadn't spotted) but it was kind of fun at the time.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Deja Vu

Weird thing happened whilst I was watching House last night. The episode revolved around House treating someone he had been dreaming about despite House never having previously met the person. Fair enough, but about halfway through the episode I found I could predict what was going to happen in each scene.

This was a little strange. This was a new episode so I couldn't have seen it before. And why could I only predict the second half of the story? Even if I had somehow managed to see the episode prior to this I would have remembered the whole thing due to its interesting premise and the cool opening scene. Plus the geek part of my brain would have remembered that the patient was played by Marc Blucas who was Riley in Buffy.

Puzzled, I continued to watch the episode.

Eventually I realised what had happened. A couple of months back I was thrown when a scene dealing with a subplot felt jarringly out of place with House's continuity. That same scene was in last night's episode but now it felt right at home continuity-wise. Okay, Five had obviously screwed up and shown the episode ahead of schedule and now they were showing it in its correct place. But why couldn't I remember the first half of the episode? I don't have a definite answer for that but the simplest solution is that I just missed the first half when it was previously aired. That would also explain why I didn't remember the Buffy connection; for the portion of the show that I remembered Blucas only made a brief appearance and had a shaved head due to aborted brain surgery.

Mystery solved.

Apart from the freaky coincidence of my experiencing deja vu due to a vague memory whilst watching a TV show where the main character experiences deja vu due to a vague memory. *Twilight Zone theme plays in background*

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Mutants, Supermen, Aces and Crooks

Here's some quick thoughts on some of the comics I've been reading recently.

Astonishing X-Men: Torn by Joss Whedon. Third volume of the Buffy-man's X-book. Plenty of action and humour along with some nice character moments. Whedon's a big Chris Claremont fan so the book has a classic feel but with a modern sheen. One problem with the book might be X-continuity, if you haven't read enough of Claremont or Grant Morrison's runs you might not quite get who some of the villains and supporting characters are supposed to be. But if you're an X-expert I'm told that some of the plot twists are a little predictable as they're new takes on old ideas. Fortunately I seem to have just the right amount of continuity knowledge for neither of these problems to bother me.

All Star Superman by Grant Morrison. An attempt to squeeze all the essential elements of Superman lore into one book. So sarky Lois Lane doesn't realise that klutzy, awkward Clark Kent is really Superman. Jimmy Olsen is a master of disguise. Lex Luthor is a hissably evil megalomaniac. Superman's powers can be distilled into a poition. Supermen of the future drop by at a moment's notice. It's all very Silver Age with a large splash of Christopher Reeve's take on Clark Kent but Morrison seems to be trying too hard. For all the book's brightly coloured sense of wonder Morrison has never been great at writing characters I can warm to, the archness of his style creating distance. He does try to generate emotion but he always seems more interested in moving on to the next piece of crazy super-powered sci-fi.

Battler Britton by Garth Ennis. North Africa WWII. Wing Commander Robert Britton and his squadron are assigned a bunch of US pilots and are told to show them the ropes. Cue much bickering between the war weary Brits and the trigger-happy Yanks. Ennis does his best to make this interesting, with a mixture of idiots and sympathetic characters in both camps but this still feels like storytelling by numbers. The cast is too large for anyone to develop a real personality and having everyone in uniform sometimes makes it a little difficult to distinguish between characters. Still, Ennis obviously has fun writing the exploits of one of his childhood comic book heroes. And he drops in lots of authentic details about WWII aerial tactics.

Criminal: Coward by Ed Brubaker. Picked this one up on a reccomendation from Simon. Leo is a planner, and a cautious one at that. The first sign that one of his criminal schemes might go awry and he's out of there. He never takes risks. But of course that makes for a very boring story so he ends up being coerced into a job where he has to take risks. Lots of them. Gritty characters spout gritty dialogue as they doublecross each other. Much more subdued take on crime than say Sin City, with the emphasis on character interaction over mindless violence. Even so, you know it's just a matter of time before the bullets start flying.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

Don't I know you from somewhere?

Caught a repeat of Sharpe's Justice the other day. Surprised to see how many of the cast went on to star in SF/F/H fare.

Obviously Sean Bean played Boromir in LotR. But you also had a pre-Life on Mars Philip Glenister, a pre-Primeval Douglas Henshall and a pre-Buffy and Angel Alexis Denisof.

And then last night I watched Sharpe's Challenge which had Bean fighting Toby Stephens. Both men had previously played Bond villains.

A less interesting version of this game can be played with Dr Who, trying to spot which programme the actors playing the supporting characters had appeared in before Who. Eastenders, Eastenders, Eastenders, Casualty, Eastenders, Eastenders ...

Thursday, June 28, 2007


I've got way behind with Paul Grist's excellent crime comic Kane so the other day I read The Untouchable Rico Costas and Other Short Stories. Great fun. Continues the story of disgraced cop Kane as he attempts to bring down crime boss Oscar Daarke. The dramatic main story is nicely balanced out with some silly jokes and parodies of wellknown comics characters and Grist's B&W artwork is as delightful as ever. At first glance the cartoony art looks pretty crude, as though the Wallace and Gromit team have tried aping Sin City, but that just helps bridge the gap between the gags and the drama. One minute you're laughing but the next minute you really care whether Kane and his partners are going to get screwed over by an Internal Affairs investigation.

Well worth a look.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Zombie King

I'm a bit late with this but I just discovered Frank Cho's Zombie King #0 is available online.

WARNING FOR ELIZABETH: You won't like this link.

Friday, June 08, 2007


Been going through one of my sporadic attempts at learning how to draw. Nothing fancy, just using photo reference to try and improve my abysmal grasp on human anatomy (apparently people are only supposed to have two arms).

The figures tend to look pretty stiff so the other day I spent a while sketching out copies of comic book poses. The theory was that if I drew some really exaggerated postures then some of that dynamism might carry over into my photo reference stuff, loosening the figures up a bit. Kind of worked, although most of the subjects of my sketches still look about as relaxed as someone who's about to receive a rectal exam.

Also spent a bit of time yesterday trying to figure how best to draw the female nose. Delineating the bridge of the nose tends to turn every sketch into Barbara Streisand but leaving out the bridge creates mutant women with these perfectly flat faces with a pair of nostrils burrowing straight into their skull.

The really worrying thing is that if anyone sees my sketchbook the content goes from pictures of glamorous women to a whole page of noses. This gives the impression that I have a rather strange fetish. I mean, these aren't the kind of hooters that most men go for.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Flash Point

Hong Kong legend Donnie Yen's new film FLASH POINT features UFC style grappling amongst his usual chop socky stuff. Although he still manages to make it incredibly acrobatic.

Trailer 1
Trailer 2
Shooting Diary

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Bath Time

Just remembered that one of my old stories is available to view online.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Hi, I'm a Marvel ... and I'm a DC

I keep forgetting to post about this. Hilarious spoof of the Mac/PC ads with Marvel and DC characters comparing their various film projects. To make it funnier the superheroes are played by their action figures. To make it even funnier they actually give better performances than the actors in the real films.

I think there's about eight of them available now. Keep an eye out for new ones.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

BFS Open Night

Went along to the BFS open night on Friday. Good laugh, much better than the disastrous March open night where only about three people turned up.

Topics of conversation included:

Seeing that as David Tennant's Dr Who is written as a sex god does Sylvester McCoy resent his stint as the character not being given the same treatment?

What stuff scared you as a kid? (For me it was Dr Who, the BBC version of The Day of the Triffids and the 50s version of The Invasion of The Body Snatchers.)

How exactly will Michael Bay fit his required amount of explosions (at least fifteen) into his remake of The Birds?

And what would be the most pointless remake Hollywood could produce? My money is on a shot-by-shot remake of Gus Van Sant's version of Psycho.

Plus, due to the large amount of writers present, a lot of whinging about there not being enough markets for stories. Translated this means, "My story has been rejected so many times I've run out of people to send it to."

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Let's Try That Again

In response to my last post Simon commented on how he sometimes has to write the wrong story before he can write the one he needs to be writing, peeling away the inital story until the real story emerges.

I remember doing this years ago with 'Spirits of Darkness and Light.' Originally it was a SF story but after completing the first draft I wasn't happy with it so I stuck it in a drawer and started work on something else. A looong time passed before I remembered the story was still stuck in the drawer. But when I finally dragged it out I realised that what I thought should be a SF story should in fact be a ghost story. Much more fitting for the tone and setting. Plus this change also allowed me to bring in an emotional undercurrent that had been entirely lacking in the story's first incarnation.

In theory outlining allows me to get this part of the process out of the way a lot quicker. I'm just bouncing ideas around, the plot is still fluid, malleable; I can add or subtract as I wish. Entire subplots can live and die in a space of seconds. Even if I end up mulling over them for longer periods at least I'm not distracted by the need to write beguiling prose at the same time as I'm trying to figure out the story's plot.

In Mask I realised that a plot development I was toying with wouldn't fit into the word count so I collapsed the whole thing into a couple of lines whilst still in the planning stages. Saved me having to write out a half dozen or so pages of story and then trying to shoehorn it into the rest of the plot; shedding dialogue here, descriptive passages there, all the time cursing the need for this gutting of my muse.

Other times the outlining hasn't worked so well. I've added in subplots that have absolutely no place in the story I'm writing but I don't realise until after I've finished the first draft. I then have the problem of working out how far this soon to be deceased subplot has entwined itself around the main plot, the story's heart. If small but telling details of the subplot have wormed their way into the main body of the story then continuity errors probably fill every page. So as well as the fun of cutting out all the stuff I don't want to keep I also have to rewrite all the stuff I do want to keep. This is never fun.

It doesn't help that lately I seem to have totally lost the ability to judge the intended length of a story. Scenes that are only supposed to last a couple of hundred words drag on past the thousand word mark, rapid fire exchanges of dialogue turn into bloated discussions. All of which means I not only waste time writing this rubbish but I also have to trim it all down again afterwards.

Unfortunately there's no one best method to write a story. There's only the best method to write the story you're currently working on. Sometimes you find that method first time, sometimes you have to scream and shout and pull out a few clumps of your hair first.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007


Ally made a good point in her reply to my last post where she said it sometimes takes her three outlines to nail a story. I'm not sure if she means three entirely separate outlines or two revisions of her intial outline. I'm guessing that different writers have different approaches to outlining.

The method I tend to have used over the last few years is to bounce ideas around in a mind map. I create different threads for each character, thinking about who they are, how they behave and what they could within the story which would be fun or exciting or scary or whatever. Hopefully by this point I have a fairly good idea of the basic shape of the story.

Then I flip the page over and write out a scene-by-scene synopsis, adding or shedding ideas from the mind map as appropriate. With this first outline I'll try to strike a balance between brevity and detail. I'm trying to keep everything lean by only mentioning key details but at the same time I'll jot down vital pieces of dialogue, description, foreshadowing etc so I know where they occur in the story. And as I'm working in a 3-act structure I'm also figuring out where to drop the big bombshells that need to occur at the end of each act.

After reading through this outline I'll go through the adding/shedding process once more. Perhaps there are too many scenes at the beginning of the story, it's messing up the pacing. So I'll see if I can ditch some scenes or perhaps combine two scenes together so I'm still conveying the same amount of information to the reader but in a more succint manner. At this stage the outline will be much more stripped down than the first one as I've already established most of the fine detail. Whereas before I used several words to describe a scene, along with several arrows leading off to notes dealing with the embellishments, here I'm working in telegramese. "Fight. Gloating. Rescue" -- stuff that only makes sense to me.

Sometimes I nail it more or less straight away. Other times I have to polish the outline two, maybe threee times.

And sometimes the outline is more flexible than others. With the infamous "no headers" story due to time constraints I only did a bare bones outline and altered a lot of stuff as I went along. Setpieces would still be in the same place but often they weren't the setpieces I had planned.

And sometimes I don't even bother with writing an outline and just work out the whole thing in my head.

Monday, May 28, 2007

I feel the need, the need for speed

Okay, so if you've read my previous post you know I made a complete balls-up of my latest story submission. That's the problem with writing fast, sometimes you get caught up in the story and don't spot your mistakes until it's too late. When you're just flinging words down on the page it's all too easy to get sloppy.

Not that writing fast is always a bad thing. Sometimes being up against a tight deadline helps a story. For a start it's a great motivator. And it can lend a story tremendous energy.

A few years back I submitted a story to an anthology. This was well before the deadline and so I had plenty of time to polish the story before submitting it. Even better, due to the lack of pressure I didn't have to give myself an ulcer in the course of writing it. All was well in the world.

Until the story got rejected.

Although the editor loved the story and thought it was one of the funniest stories she had received she couldn't use it. Turned out I'd followed the guidelines a little too faithfully and the story I'd produced was too similar to a host of other stories she'd received.

Normally, this in itself wouldn't be the end of the world. After all, I could always send her another story.

Except I received the rejection on the final day for submissions. Anything I was going to email her I was going to have to send now.

Frantically I came up with a new idea for a story, bouncing dialogue and plot points around inside my head. Grabbing a pen I scribbled down an outline, simultaneously filling in themes and character arcs. Okay, I could do this.

Sitting down at my computer I had the whole thing written in a couple of hours. All I had to do now was submit it.

And that's when my email stopped working.

Didn't matter how many times I tried sending the email the screen just kept flashing the same error message.

"Oh dear," I said. Or words to that effect.

Several hours and one hundred failed attempts later the email still refused to let me send my story. I kept trying. The anthology was a US publication, the time difference meant that I had an extra five or six hours before I blew the deadline. All I had to do was keep trying.

It became a battle of wills. Me clicking defiantly on my mouse and my computer sneering at me as it flashed its error message. On and on we fought, no quarter asked, none given.

Finally at two o'clock in the morning my computer admitted defeat and let me send the email.

Normally this is the point where I would tell you that when I crawled out of bed I found an email telling me the story had been rejected. But apparently irony was on holiday that morning because instead I found the story had been accepted. Despite my lack of sleep I uttered a cry of triumph. Although to the casual observer it probably sounded more like an exhausted yawn.

Anyway, it just goes to show that fast writing and last minute submissions do sometimes pay off.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

First Impressions

Just had a story bounced from an anthology I was trying to get into. Kind of pissed off about it -- I could really do with some good news right now -- but not entirely surprised.

I only found out about the anthology at the last minute and then wasted a few days researching an idea which I ended up abandoning as I couldn't get certain historical facts to tie up with the story. Then it took a couple of days research before I could start work on my new idea. Add in a few other factors reducing my recent writing time and before I know it the day of the deadline has arrived and I still haven't finished the story. Worse, I need to be at work in a couple of hours.

So I knock out the last part of the story, type it up, and then print it out. Okay, couple of characters still don't have names, I'll just have to make something up off the top of my head. And there's some clumsy phrasing here and there, best cut that out. Aaarghh, and I still haven't established an important prop that ties into the story's climax, so I need to shoehorn an extra bit of description into the opening scene.

I check my watch. Only minutes to go before I have to leave for work. I start writing out the email that's going to accompany my submission whilst simultaneously proofreading the manuscript. I'm only four pages into the story when time runs out, if I don't leave now I'm going to miss the beginning of my shift. Praying that somehow the rest of the manuscript doesn't contain similar mistakes to the ones I've just corrected I click my mouse, submitting the story literally seconds before I run out the door.

So I know this isn't the slickest story I've ever written. I didn't finish polishing it up, I didn't have time to insert a couple of ideas I had to increase the dramatic tension, and the bit where I tried to sound really clever and profound got cut out because the language was too clumsy and imprecise to convey even the slightest sense of what I was trying to get across. Plus, those last minute character names I came up with? Really bad.

Still, I tried to be optimistic. Maybe if the editor liked the story enough he would ignore its rough edges. He might even let me tidy it up before publication.

But then, a couple of hours into my shift, I realised I had made a big mistake. I hadn't put any headers on the manuscript. No page numbers. No title. No author's name. Yeah, okay, I had the title and author's name on the front page but after that, nothing. The kind of mistake that most editors jump on as it gives them an excuse to reduce their slushpile. "This moron doesn't even know enough to put headers on his manuscripts, how can he possibly have written a decent story??????"

The annoying thing is that every submission I've ever made has carried headers. It's the last thing I do before submitting a story, the thing that lets me know that a story is ready for an editor's perusal. But in the rush to meet the deadline I completely and utterly forgot.

Admittedly, that may not have been the reason the story got rejected. Like I said the story wasn't the finest tale I've ever penned. But in his email the editor said he'd been forced to switch to form rejections due to the amount of submisions he received. That means a big slushpile. That means an editor stops looking for reasons to publish your story and starts looking for reasons not to publish it.

And under those cirumstances first impressions count.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Fanboy stuff

Simon Strantzas has written an interesting post on The Punisher over at his blog, comparing Steven Grant's take on the character with that of Garth Ennis. He's also drawn a nice little sketch of old Frankie boy.

Pity he didn't mention Mike Baron's run on the Punisher. Admittedly Baron lost his way pretty quickly but personally I thought the first year or so of his run was pretty damn good. But I seem to remember Simon mentioning that he's not a fan of the Baron stories.

And just to clarify, Simon's discussing Ennis's MAXX stories not his Marvel Knights take on the Punisher. The Marvel Knights version was played for laughs and didn't really appeal to me that much whereas the MAXX version is deadly serious.

Finally, I'll take Simon's quote of the last line from Grant's Return to Big Nothing and raise him the last line to Ennis's The Tyger: "And I show them a face not made by God."

Monday, May 14, 2007


I've got fond memories of watching old James Cagney films when I was a kid. Channel 4 did a season of his films and it was a revelation. He played heroes and he played villains. He did comedy and he did drama. And he did it all wonderfully.

Here's a quick selection of scenes from his films:

Cagney acting hard

Cagney pioneering martial arts fight scenes

Cagney in dance mode

Thursday, May 10, 2007

We Fade to Grey

Good news everybody!

Pendragon Press are publishing We Fade to Grey, a horror anthology featuring novelettes from Paul Finch, Simon Bestwick, Mark West, Gary McMahon and me.

As you can probably guess from the title We Fade to Grey features stories based around the theme of clothes losing their whiteness after repeated washing. My story, Skidmarks, revolves around a pair of demonic Y-fronts terrorising the clientele of a rundown launderette. The book is sponsored by Daz and Shane Richie will be writing the introduction.

Um, no, I just made that up. Gary McMahon did suggest a theme when he approached everyone about submitting a story but it was just something to get the creative juices flowing, we didn't really have to stick to it. In fact at WHC neither of us could remember what the original theme had been. Gary tentatively suggested that it may have been "mistakes." As in, "It may have been a mistake to invite Stuart to submit to this anthology." A feeling probably compounded by the fact that my story overshot the word count by about 3,000 words. (Look, it's not my fault, okay? I can either do short stories or novellas, don't expect me to mess around halfway between the two with these piddly novellette things. Novelettes is a stupid name anyway, sounds like a '6os girl group.)

So anyway, that's We Fade to Grey from Pendragon Press, debuting at FantasyCon 2008.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Shooter/Point of Impact

Saw Shooter recently -- you remember, the Mark Wahlberg film based on Stephen Hunter's Point of Impact?

Turned out to be an okayish action film. Obviously wants to set itself up as a franchise to rival Matt Damon's Bourne series. Does its best to emulate the more realistic lowkey action style of the Bourne flicks but can't resist turning every explosion into a gigantic Hollywood fireball -- "He only threw a hand grenade; should it have been able to destroy half a continent?"

Various changes had been made to the plot and afterwards I amused myself by trying to figure out which changes had been made in order to streamline the plot into a 2 hour film and which had been necessitated by the changes they had already made -- "We've got to keep that great setpiece but we've already written out the main character for that scene due to pacing reasons, which of the remaining characters can we use to replace them?"

The hero's sidekick Nick Memphis benefits from this streamlining insofar that he is less bumbling than his counterpart in the novel. On the downside he loses the tragic backstory that shows beneath his dithery exterior he possesses balls of steel.

On a more worrying note the potential franchise may have shot itself in the foot by excising a lot of material from POI that comes into play in the later novels. Either they're not planning to be too faithful to the novels or they're hoping cinema audiences have the attention span of an amnesiac goldfish.

The politics angle of the story had been brought to the fore which I think was largely so the director could push his political agenda -- apparently the people who sponsor and carry out assassinations and other black ops aren't very nice and shouldn't be trusted. Yes, I was shocked by this revelation too.

And being a Hollywood action film they couldn't end with the courtroom drama that concluded the novel, they had to tag on another action scene just so they could end on a bang. Which kind of backfired on them as the finale was pretty dull. Plus I'm not entirley sure but I suspect the loose ends they left to be tied up by the final shooutout actually made nonsense of the hero's actions at the end of the previous action scene.

On top of this the film made Bob Lee Swagger more brutal than in the novel. In Hunter's version he has to be coaxed back into killing, in the film he pretty much revels in it from the word go. At the end of the novel it is pointed out that during the course of this little adventure he only killed in self defence, in the film he is turned into judge, jury and executioner.

And now for the really petty irritations:

Everyone refers to Bob as Bob Lee even though it is specifically stated in POI that he doesn't like that.

No one refers to Bob by his sniper nickname, Bob the Nailer. Although to be fair in the film he's a super-secret black ops sniper not a 'Nam vet so he's not supposed to have a famous nickname.

Bob never gets to use his sniping catchphrase, "Time to hunt."

They didn't use my favourite line of dialogue from the novel where, upon learning how many kills Bob can rack up in a single mission, one of the villains comments, "Cocksucker can shoot a little."

Anyway, even though I didn't think the film was as good as the book you're probably better of watching the film first. The friend I saw the film with thought it was okay but he hadn't read the book so he didn't have anything to compare it to. So yeah, watch the film and if you like it read the book afterwards. Unless of course you have a burning desire to read Hunter's prose wihtout it being filtered through the memory of Hollywood's halfhearted adap.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Unquiet signing

Went to a John Connolly signing last night.John read an extract from his novel in progress The Reapers then did a very funny Q&A with the audience before moving on to signing books.

Turns out he has an excellent memory for faces because he remembered me from our brief chat at last year's FantasyCon. "Wow," I thought. "Nothing could make me happier than this." That is until he said he'd read the copy of Mask I gave him and he really enjoyed it and was pleased it won the British Fantasy Award. "Okay," I thought. "Nothing can make me happier than this." And then he invited me along for a drink with a group of his friends and fans. "My God," I thought. "Nothing can possibly make me happier than this ... Unless Jessica Alba suddenly shows up offering to have sex with me."

At this point my luck ran out so I had to settle for drinks with John and his pals.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Hard Bastards

Was chatting to one of my mates about actors who don't mind being unsympathetic when playing heroes. The ones who don't need to have at least one key scene where their character is shown to be a wonderful, sensitive human being. The ones who are prepared to play hard, unlikeable, even misanthropic characters. The ones who are prepared to play real bastards.

Obviously John Wayne came up. As Ethan Edwards in The Searchers -- possibly his most famous role -- he is a bitter, racist, vengeance-driven bastard. In fact I would argue that he's not even the hero of the film. Yes, he gets the most screentime and has his name over the credits but the real hero of the story is Jeffrey Hunter. Even if you don't agree that Hunter is the film's hero he is at least its conscience. He is the moral centre of the film, Wayne is just there to act hard. The same is true of Red River. Wayne starts off in his typical firm but fair persona but about halfway through the film he crosses the line and it becomes clear that he is the villain of the piece and Montgomery Clift is the real hero. Perhaps not coincidentally The Searchers and Red River are considered to contain two of Wayne's best performances.

And James Cagney. Yes, he played heroes. He even played jolly romantic leads when he was in song and dance mode. But he is best remembered for playing villains. White Heat, The Public Enemy -- he was '30s cinema's favourite psychotic gangster. Even later on in his career he could still play bastards. His portrayal of Captain Morton in Mister Roberts is hissably evil and the film's a comedy!

Humphrey Bogart also played his fair share of villains before getting a shot at a heroic role. And then he played Sam Spade; a hard, cynical, virtually amoral bastard. Not exactly role model material. Yes, he played softer roles such as in The African Queen but he still retained his hard edge. The Caine Mutiny shows him going into meltdown, his portrayal of Captain Queeg the dramtic flipside to Cagney's comedic martinet in Mr Roberts.

Other actors come to mind. Michael Caine in Get Carter. Clint Eastwood in White Hunter, Black Heart or High Plains Drifter or the original Dirty Harry.

Wayne. Cagney. Bogart. Caine. Eastwood. And then we added another name to this illustrious list ...

Richard Briers.

Yes, I know he was the voice of Roobarb and Custard. And I know he was Tom Good in The Good Life. But let's face it, Tom was a bit of a bastard. He jacked in his job and decided to basically start a farm in his Surbiton home, subjecting his wife Barbara to a life of hardship and toil and financial destituiton and he expects her to happily go along with it. And while he continually takes potshots at his next door neighbour Jerry for continuing to take part in the rat race Jerry's the one Tom goes crawling to when he needs money. Plus there's the fact that Tom obviously fancies his chances with Jerry's wife, Margo. He sees how worked up she gets when he teases her and he suspects that this passion extends to other areas.

And in Ever Decreasing Circles Briers's character Martin is basically a little Hitler. His obsession with rules and regulations and always doing everything by the book is annoying enough but he has hardly any warmth to him, any humanity. Yes, the occasional episode would show the softer side to his character but mainly he was there to be unlikeable, his desperation to cling to his ordered little world no matter what sometimes shifting from comedy to darker, more unsettling territory.

So here's to Richard Briers. One of acting's best bastards!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


Okay, here's a few quick comments on WHC. Yes, I know they're incredibly overdue. Shut up.

To be honest I didn't think I was going to make it to WHC. Various things looked set to keep me in the UK. But at the last minute I managed to sort all these problems out (i.e. I decided to ignore them all until I got back).

Anyway, hooked up with various chaps and chapesses over there including Chris Teague, John Travis, Allyson Bird, Simon Strantzas, Donald Pulker, Adriana , Michael Kelly, Mick Curtis, Debbie Curtis, Richard Gavin, Andrew Leonard, Diamond Dai Price, Gary Fry and Gary McMahon. And loads of other people who I probably would have remembered to list if I'd written this three weeks ago like I said I would.

Went up the CN Tower, the tallest building in the world. It's got a glass floor so you can look down and see what the pavement looks like from that height. It was funny, all the horror writers were desperately trying to avoid standing on it -- "Are you sure it's safe to stand on? Maybe I'd better not stand on it, I ate some celery earlier, the extra half ounce might make me too heavy for the glass." Meanwhile all these schoolkids ran straight onto the glass and started jumping up and down on it. "Yay! Let's see if we can break the glass!"

Also visited Mount Pleasant Cemetery. Very picturesque, with lots of trees, luscious green grass and lots of cute squirrels scampering about. Kind of a waste really seeing as the people who spend the most time there are all dead. Anyway, for some reason all the squirrels were black -- possibly due to poor personal hygiene. Or perhaps they were on their way to a fancy dress party and had all decided to go as skunks. Also spotted a teensy-weensy creature with black stripes down its back. Upon asking our Canadian hosts as to what this tiny ball of fluff might be we received this reply: "Was it a chipmunk?" I didn't know, I'd never seen a chipmunk, I'd only be able to recognise it as such if talked in a high voice and engaged in hijinks that upset Donald Duck. "Okay, maybe it wasn't a chipmunk. Maybe it was a squirrel. Or a cat. Or a hedgehog, did it look like a hedgehog?" Eventually these fine zoological experts decided that it was indeed a chipmunk.

Elsewhere I managed to infuriate Gary McMahon with my total inability to tell even the simplest of anecdotes without wandering off on at least half a dozen Ronnie Corbettesque digressions. ("And the producer said to me ... ")

The convetnion itself was great. Lots of brilliant panels and interviews. Joe Lansdale had tons of hilarious stories about his dad. Saw the Thomas Ligotti film 'The Frolic.' Totally ignored the raffle. The parties were a bit disappointing but that was partly due to half of our group not actually staying in the hotel so each night they disappeared home before the parties even started. And part of it was due to a weird local law which prevented you from moving between rooms whilst carrying alcohol. Sod's law dictated that if a party was a bit dull and you all decided to look for another one it would be at the exact point that one of your number had just started a fresh beer so you had to wait until they had finished it before you could head off. By which point someone else had started a fresh beer ...

Still, overall the convention was a lot of fun and ended way too quickly.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Yet More Toronto

Diamond Dai Price has got his WHC report up at his blog.

More Toronto

Allyson has a WHC report up on her website.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Pendragon in Toronto

Chris has got his WHC report up at his blog.

I suppose this means I'd better write something about the trip at some point.


Sunday, April 08, 2007

WHC photos

Couple of the people I was hanging out with at WHC have photos of some of our activities there up online.

Don't get too excited, there's nothing scandalous on there. Mainly because I bowed to their blackmail demands.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Need ... sleep

Just got back from the World Horror Convention in Toronto. Had fun but am currently exhausted. Will hopefully post more when I've recovered.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Action - Tone

One thing that always annoys me about action scenes is when they don't fit the tone of the story. You know, when you're reading a realistic lowkey story and then suddenly a nuclear missile explodes right next to the hero and all he gets is a flesh wound.

Occasionally that can work for shock value or comedic effect (think of the kickboxing priest in Braindead) but normally I find it jars me out of my enjoyment of the story.

Now I'm not saying I always get tone right when applying it to my action scenes but I do my best. If you look at the examples from my previous post 'The Noble Art' features boxing and so I based the action on ringcraft. I thought about the kinds of punches which work at close range and a typical boxing style response to nullifying those punches. We've all seen that a million times in real boxing matches, we know boxers use these moves, it suits the tone of the story. (When the story was online a couple of boxers actually posted comments praising me on the authenticity of the fight scenes.)

'One for Sorrow, Two for Joy' featured a Catwoman style heroine so I tried to give the action a slightly more comic book feel. Not entirely realistic but not full-on fantasy either. So the heroine's basic tactics are fairly sound but her moves are a little more flashy and martial artsified.

'The Master' was a Hong Kong chop socky pastiche so the moves are a lot more unrealistic. The emphasis was on trying to recreate the incredible energy and elaborate choreography of a Jackie Chan film. The techniques are strictly of the 'Don't try these at home' variety.

'Gladiator' has two highly trained martial artists mixing it up in a down and dirty streetfight. Kind of like the Cusack/Urquidez scrap in Grosse Pointe Blank (I forget offhand whether I wrote the story before seeing the film). Both fighters have some cool moves up their sleeves but they're not following the Marquis of Queensbury rules. There may be lots of skill involved but the fight doesn't look pretty.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Let's Get Ready to Rumble!

Okay, time to put my money where my mouth is. Here's some of my action scenes. Still sticking to the one paragraph rule.

From 'The Noble Art':

The right overhand came out of nowhere. Trey didn’t even know Sanchez had thrown the punch until it exploded onto his forehead. A fountain of blood erupted from his brow, shocking him with its suddenness. Sanchez seized the opportunity, pouncing on him and pummelling his body with short, hooking punches. Blind instinct took over -- Trey wrapped Sanchez’s arms, dragging him into a clinch, hugging him tightly until the referee separated them and sent them to their corners.

From 'One for Sorrow, Two for Joy':

Before they could attack Mags dodged to the right, outflanking them, and smashed the nearest one in the jaw with a palm heel. He crashed to the ground, unconscious. The other Bozos watched, dumbstruck. A groin slap and a downward elbow strike provided KO No. 2. At this point the two remaining Bozos finally realised that they should probably fight back. They both lunged at her, getting in each other’s way, and she danced aside, sweeping the legs out from under the nearest one. She finished him off with a foot stamp to the solar plexus.

From 'The Master':

A mop and bucket sat in a doorway. Spinning round Chen kicked the bucket into the air, launching it at Lo Wei’s head. Lo Wei blocked it with his palms and it bounced back to land on Chen’s head, plunging him into sudden darkness. Instinctively he ducked his head, offering the wooden bucket as the easiest target. Sure enough Lo Wei punched the bucket, shattering the wood and inadvertently freeing Chen.

From 'Gladiator' (unpublished):

He lashes out with his other foot, ramming the heel into my jaw. I lose a couple of teeth and then my balance, falling backwards, the ankle-lock escaping my grasp. I jump up and spit, spraying the corridor with teeth and blood.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


Quentin recently posted this paragraph from a novel he's been reading and stated how it reminded him how much he hates action:

It soon became apparent that while Mou-lau was able to keep the men from coming upstairs, he was unable to prevail on them to leave. With the two sedan chairs ready, I ordered my servant, who was very handy with his fists, to go down first and clear a way for us. Hsiu-feng took Tsui-ku and followed him, while I took Hsi-erh and brought up the rear. We rushed downstairs all at once and, with the help of my servant, Hsiu-feng and Tsui-ku escaped by the door. One of the men downstairs grabbed hold of Hsi-erh as we ran past, but I kicked at his arm so that he let go of her. Hsi-erh ran out, with me following behind her. My servant stayed by the door to keep them from chasing after us.

Okay, it's pretty bland but as Quentin himself admits it's probably a bad translation. Still, I found his blanket dismissal of action quite irritating. Using the above paragraph as an example of how bad all action scenes are is unfair anyway. Action scenes, like any other scenes, lose a lot of their power when taken out of context.

Anyway, to try and redress the balance a little here are some examples of what I deem good action scenes. I'm sticking to the one paragraph rule even though as I stated above that's a huge handicap to any scene, not just action ones.

By Stephen Hunter

From Havana:

Whoever he was, he was taken aback by Earl's defiance, but the surprise instantly transmuted into rage, his face flashed the dead white of assault, and he waded in. His first blow, a wide, circular notification by wire, was easily evaded, and Earl instead snared the second one, only slightly less telegraphed, transformed its power by the primitive alchemy of judo back onto his attacker, and rammed the guy's noggin hard against the trunk of the tree.

Also from Havana:

And with that the man threw his punch. It was absurdly telegraphed, as he pivoted just a bit, cocked his right shoulder, cocked his arm, and set his right foot before launch. The big fist flew at Earl like some sort of softball pitch from a woman, and as it swept toward him, Earl almost cracked a smile.

From Black Light:

Earl hit Jed with his balled fist just under the ear, toward the jaw, a short vicious, completely satisfying jab. He hit him so hard the man was driven backwarrds as he chomped on his own tongue, opening a terrible wound, and blood began to gurgle out of Jed's mouth and darken on his overalls. A storm of dust floated up as Jed thrashed a bit and then lay still, one hand raised in surrender. Earl stepped toward him as if to work on him some more. Jed scurried back on his hands and knees, his face gone to the fear a man feels when he knows he's way overmatched.

By Joe R Lansdale

From Mucho Mojo:

I took a punch in the side of the head and one in the kidney and I yelled and turned and hit a guy with a forearm and saw another guy fly by me on the end of Leonard's foot, and then I saw the stock of Leonard's shotgun catch another one in the side of the head, and after that I saw less of Leonard because I was busy.

Also from Mucho Mojo:

I bobbed and weaved and let a couple of shots ricochet off me while I got it together, then we were close and the fists were flying and I was distantly aware of the sound of the gloves as they slapped on sweaty flesh, and I was aware of moving in and out of light and shadow, and finally, when he stood in shadow and I stood in light, with the sun at my back, I decided to hold him. I wasn't going to move. He wasn't coming into the light. He was going to take what I had to give in shadow. Take it and like it.

So you're getting characterization, metaphor and a mad, headlong rush of energy that is almost beautiful in its savagery. And that's out of context, when you don't really know who the characters are, how they relate to each other and why their battles are so important.

Bad action scenes are a bit of a pet hate of mine. Lots of writers -- including a lot of people who should know better as they are bestselling thriller novelists -- can't write an action scene to save their lives. And then readers see these authors' work and assume that it's the eptiome of action writing. It's not. If you're going to slag off action scenes at least read some decent ones before you do so. And don't just take my word for what passes for good action. If you don't like Hunter or Lansdale go read Lee Child or James Ellroy or whoever else takes your fancy.

And yes, I know, I've focused exclusively on fight scenes here at the expense of car chases, gun battles etc but I had a better idea of where to find the fisticuffs stuff in the novels I was using. I didn't really have time to reread all the novels in order to pick a wider range of action options.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

RAW 23

Robert Anton Wilson obituary plus an old article in which he details his fascination with the number 23 in this month's Fortean Times.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Funky Moves

A martial arts black belt I used to know named Alex Turnbull has got a trailer for a short film he directed up at Alex used to be a music producer (actually, maybe he still is) and the gym where he now trains has a dance class as well as classes in pencak silat, a dance-like Indonesian martial art. Consequently this trailer ends up looking like Jamiroquai competing in combat breakdancing.

Btw, I didn't spot Alex in the actual trailer -- the chap doing all the twirly hands stuff is Steven Benitez, Alex's instructor.

Hang on, just found a short bio of Alex's music credits: "...founding member of legendary 23 Skidoo, whose early work inspired groups such as The Chemical Brothers, Primal Scream and The Future Sound of London. Alex also set up and ran Ronin Records, one of the UK’s longest running and best established independent hip hop labels. He has also under his belt an extensive CV of music remixing work which includes remixes for among others Seal, Ice T, Stevie Wonder, Massive Attack, Da Brat, Nenah Cherry and Kylie Minogue."

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Benny the Jet

Found some video clips of Benny "the Jet" Urquidez. Legendary kickboxer who was about the only US fighter of his era who was small enough to go up against Japanese and Thai opponents instead of just beating up on other Yanks. Edited highlights of his kickboxing career here. Pity it doesn't show his trademark victory backflip but the soundtrack almost makes up for it.

He later went into films and twice fought Jackie Chan onscreen -- Wheels on Meals and Dragons Forever. But most of you are more likely to remember him duking it out with John Cusack in Grosse Point Blank.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Don't I Ever Shut Up?

This interview came out before I started this blog so I don't think I ever got round to mentioning it.

Topics covered include my literary influences, the research process for The Mask Behind the Face, my forays into writing comic strips and the controversy caused by one of my old stories.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Standing in the Way of Control

My fave current single is 'Standing in the Way of Contro'l by The Gossip.

When I first heard it I thought, "Oh God, just what the world needs: a karaoke Gloria Gaynor." But by the time the song got about halfway through I was hooked. I may well get fed up with it but right now I've only heard it about three times and it's buzzing round my head with an infectious energy. Soulful screeching underpinned by a rock solid riff.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Alan Moore's Exit Interview

Recently read Alan Moore's Exit interview. In it he discusses his misgivings about the comics industry and the way he thinks he has been mistreated. This isn't the most fun reading in the world as it tends to read a bit like, "And then DC screwed me over. And then Warner Bros. screwed me over. Then DC screwed me over again." But it's interesting to get his take on the events that led to him withdrawing from mainstrream comics.

Plus there's talk about the progress of his new novel Jersualem, his thoughts on reincarnation and eternal recurrence and news on the latest installment of The League of Extraordianry Gentlemen, an excerpt of which can be found here.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Masquerade reviews

Found a couple of reviews for my story, Masquerade, which appeared in Midnight Street #8.

One at Whispers of Wickedness at and one at

Both reviews contain mild spoilers so I'll just give you the edited highlights (i.e. the bits where they say how brilliant I am.) Whispers says the story "is very readable and imaginative." And Zone-sf says it is "one of the highlights of the issue ... Highly original, and very well crafted."

If you don't mind spoilers then click on the links above for the full reviews. You can also read about the other stories in that issue. Although I can't for the life of me think of a reason why anyone would want to read about other authors when they can read about me ...

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Cheap at half the price

Just noticed that a seller on Amazon is offering a copy of Mask for £59.96. Come on, it's not worth anywhere near that much.

Then again...

Oi, Chris, charge £60 each for the new print run. And don't forget to send me my royalties :-)

Monday, February 26, 2007

Barry Eisler

Currently reading One Last Kill by Barry Eisler. It's the fourth in his series about John Rain, a Japanese-American assassin.

Rain cuts a lonely, isolated figure. He has been killing ever since he served in Vietnam as a teenager. By now he has developed a professional stoicism to his profession; distancing himself from the emotional ramifications of killing; filling his world with security measures in case anyone tries to come after him; cutting himself off from anything -- friends, family, lovers -- that might make him an easier target. He is calm, implacable, trusting no one.

But as the novels progress events conspire to awaken his emotions, to stir his conscience, to revive his trust in friends. These are traits that he can do without, that can get him killed. The rediscovery of his soul could just cost him his life.

Eisler himself served with the CIA for three years so he writes authoritavely about espionage matters. He also lived in Japan which lends atmosphere to the many scenes set in Tokyo. On top of that he's a black belt in judo and currently trains in Brazilian ju-jitsu.

Eisler says there will only be six John Rain novels which suggests he has a definite conclusion planned for the series. I'm not sure whether he will finally allow Rain to retire or if he'll leave him trapped in a world of death, violence and paranoia.

But it'll be fun to find out.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Magical Mystery Moore

In 2009 Alan Moore and Steven Moore are bringing out The Moon and Serpent Bumper Book of Magic. (If you follow the link you'll have to scroll down the page to find the relevant info.) It's a comic revealing messers Moore and Moore's thoughts on the history of magic and how spells work in real life.

Yes, I know, this sounds like some feeble New Age claptrap but I find Alan Moore's musings on magic fascinating. Not that I neccesarily believe everything he comes out with but it's nice to bounce around ideas in a different sphere of thought every now and again. Because that's the main thrust behind Moore's magic: ideas. Or, as he might put it, information. The entire universe can be viewed as an interplay between different forms of information -- Moore just happens to like processing that information through magic spells and rituals. It gives him a structure on which to hang his metaphysical musings. And as he himself admits just because the ideas and concepts he plays around with work better for him when he approaches them from within a magical framework that approach may not work for other people.

Also out from Moore, hopefully some time this year is the DVD The Mindscape of Alan Moore. This documentary was supposed to be out last year but until it finally befomes available I'll just have to make do with the trailer.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

All Hail the New Madness

Keep forgetting to mention that Simon Strantzas made some nice comments about Mask recently.

As well as praising Mask he's also a comics fan. Obviously a man of good taste.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

The horror! The horror!

People's perceptions of different types of fiction is funny.

A couple of years ago I was flying home from WHC with a bunch of fellow writers. We were all winding down after the convention, just relaxing on the plane, all reading different books.

Despite the book in my hand the little old lady sitting next to me started chatting away. She discovered that my friends and I were writers and she wittered on about how her granddaughter wanted to become a writer and could we offer any advice? As my friends were stitting in the opposite aisle they managed to escape her interrogation (the only time they showed any interest was when she asked if she might have read any of our work at which point there was a flurry of business cards in her direction). But as I was sitting next to her I had no escape.

As she carried on asking my help on how to launch a glittering literary career (yeah, 'cos I'm the person to ask about that) she noticed a twentysomething man sitting a couple of seats ahead of us. He wore a black shirt emblazoned with an image of the Devil surrounded by the flames of Hell. The woman's eyes narrowed. "Ooo, he looks like one of those creepy people who likes horror. Those people are just weird."

I thought about telling her which convention I had just attended but I didn't want to encourage further conversation. I just wanted to get back to my novel.

As I tried to find my place in the novel I pondered how some people are so intolerant of something so simple as people reading books that they themselves don't enjoy.

Just then one of my friends noticed that I was the only one out of our little group who wasn't reading a horror novel. He gestured towards my book. "Is that sword & sorcery?"

I nodded.

Chuckling, he shook his head. "You sad bastard."

Sunday, February 11, 2007


Stephen Hunter's novel Point of Impact has been made into a film called Shooter.

The novel features reclusive 'Nam veteran and former marine sniper Bob Lee Swagger. He's reluctantly dragged out of his self-imposed exile in order to help the US government in a matter of national security. Of course it all goes tits-up and Bob finds himself caught up in a web of lies and assassins. Cue betrayal, gun battles, and meditations on the meaning of honour.

Mark Wahlberg doesn't look anything like Bob and I'm assuming they've changed his origin so that he served in a more recent conflict. Also, the character played by Danny Glover has a different name from the character in the novel. More worryingly, going by the synopsis I read off the internet the plot has been altered slightly. The trailer also suggests changes, although trailers often show scenes out of context so I'm hoping that this is the case here and the film makers have actually been reasonably faithful.

Point of Impact isn't my favourite Hunter novel (that would be Black Light, or possibly Dirty White Boys, depending on my mood) but it's still good fun and I want to see its film adap done properly. Especially as the success or failure of Shooter will probably dictate whether any more of Hunter's books make it to the big screen.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Anyone for seconds?

The Mask Behind the Face sold out a few months back. But rejoice! The second print run is now available!

Monday, January 29, 2007

Hell is the Absence of God

Towards the end of last year I read Hell is the Absence of God, a novella by Ted Chiang. Billed as SF but to me it felt more like dark fantasy or horror. Anyway, angels and miracles abound on Earth, proving the existence of God. But proving He exists isn't the same as discerning His plans for the world. A small group of people who have been touched by tragedies and miracles attempt to discover why God has shaped their lives in the manner that He has chosen.

It reads a little like a synopsis for a longer story but the plot is compelling enough to keep things interesting. A chilling meditation on the nature of faith.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

I'm ready for my close up

I'm probably going to regret posting this but there's a video of my acceptance speech for Best Novella at FantasyCon online at

You might not be able to catch everything I say but trust me, you're not missing much.

Thanks to Martin Roberts for recording my embarrassment for posterity.

Friday, January 26, 2007


Read the X-Men Marvel pocketbooks in the leadup to Christmas. The Chris Claremont/Dave Cockrum/John Byrne stuff.

Looking at the plot twists, emotional angst, relationship entanglements and groundbreaking storylines such as the Dark Phoenix epic and Days of Future Past it became really clear that Joss Whedon really learned a hell of a lot from Chris Claremont.

And he put it to good use in Buffy. Not quite convinced by his work on Astonishing X-Men but he might still win me over.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Terrance Dicks

One of the cheap DVDs I picked up over Xmas was Dr Who and the Horror of Fang Rock. I remember being absolutely terrified of the monster in this story when I saw it as a kid. I was pretty sure I wouldn't have the same reaction to it now but my curiosity got the better of me. So I bought the DVD, stuck it in the player and waited to have the bejeesus scared out of me.

Of course the monster turned out to as scary as a little kitten. A cute fluffy little kitten. A cute fluffy little kitten staring up at you lovingly with its big wide eyes.

In my defence when I first saw the story I would have only been four. I know kids who are older than that who are scared of Father Christmas for God's sake.

Anyway, the DVD wasn't a complete loss. The story wasn't actually that bad although funnily enough I couldn't help thinking that it would've been better if it had been played as a straight horror story without the Dr Who touches. (And with a decent monster.)

The DVD also had a feature on the story's writer, Terrance Dicks. Most of my memories of Dr Who come from reading his novelizations of the stories. In book form the dodgy acting and shoddy SFX of the TV programme disappear and you're left with tight plots, sharp dialogue, scary monsters and cosmic chills. I used to love them.

And that led me to read the other children's novels Dicks wrote. His Star Quest trilogy of SF novels. His Baker Street Irregulars series about a gang of crime solving kids. His horror novels including Cry Vampire! (Pretty much the only horror I read as a kid.)

He was a huge influence on my writing as a kid. Without him I might not be the writer I am today.

So now you know who to blame.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


Just heard that there's plans for a Preacher TV series from HBO. For those of you who don't know Preacher is a comic book by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon featuring Jesse Custer (a disillusioned preacher possessed by a demon/angel hybrid), Tulip O'Hare (Jesse's girlfriend and a crack shot with a pistol) and Cassidy (an Irish vampire who likes to drink and shag. And drink. Then shag. Then drink some more). Together this trio of friends are out to track down God and give Him a good telling off for making such a hash of Creation.

Along the way they encounter serial killers, psychotic rednecks, wannabe vampires, a global conspiracy and The Saint of Killers. Cue blasphemy, graphic violence and toilet humour. And swearing. Lots and lots of swearing.

If the TV series does get off the ground I'm curious to see how it turns out. In my opinion the comic started off great then lost its way, still offering up the occasional wonderful moment but never quite recapturing the promise of the early issues.

But being a sad little fanboy I'm still excited about the prospect of a TV series.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Face of Twilight

Yesterday I finally got round to reading The Face of Twilight by Mark Samuels.

The story revolves around Ivan Gilman, a struggling author who notices strange things beginning to happen after he moves into his new flat. But the odd occurrences aren't just limited to his new home, soon they begin to spread across the city. Intrigued, he decides to investigate. Hands up everyone who thinks he's going to regret that decision?

The tale starts slowly, gradually drawing the reader in, but then builds to a terrifying crescendo. A creepy and thought-provoking story in the weird fiction tradition. Recommended. (Unless you haven't bought my books yet, in which case buy those instead.)

Thursday, January 18, 2007


My story Masquerade appears in Midnight Street #8.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Barry Norman

Received various DVDs as Xmas presents and then bought some more in the sales. Here's some quick thoughts on the ones I've watched so far.

Assault on Precinct 13 -- Never seen the original but I'd heard that this remake was pretty good. I'd heard wrong. Glossy rather than gritty, with paper-thin characterization, awful dialogue and boring action scenes. Even managed to bungle the seemingly foolproof notion of updating Rio Bravo to the present day by introducing some pointless plot twists. Only good point was the unexpected killing of one of the characters who seemed guaranteed to survive.

Ong-Bak -- Tony Jaa kicks, punches, knees and elbows his way through a bunch of thugs for two hours or so. Very little plot or character development but who cares when the action looks like this? That said, it would be nice if Jaa could work on his acting range a little. Jet Li and Jackie Chan will never be called great actors but at least they have more than one facial expression.

A History of Violence -- A little disappointed with this one. Yes, the acting and writing is much better than in the above films but it still didn't live up to the hype. Viggo Mortensen is fine as the mild-mannered hero but less convincing as his vicious alter ego. I never really understood why the character turned his back on his old life. Also, Mortensen's fight scenes look too martial arts-ified. Okay, he's not leaping around like Tony Jaa but he's all palm heels, armlocks and spearhands to the throat. Would have been more fitting for his character to bite off ears, gouge eyeballs and beat people to death with chairlegs. Overall the film felt a lot more simplistic than I was expecting. Cronenberg seemed too pleased with his modern-day Western's "subversion" of the ethics of the classical Western to notice that the themes he's exploring -- the bad man trying to escape his former life, the dilemma of violence versus a peaceful existence -- are in fact staples of the genre. Not a bad film then but not as good as it thinks it is.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Robert Anton Wilson

Been offline the last couple of weeks and now I come back on to find that Robert Anton Wilson has died.

Wilson wrote weird SF (for want of a better term) novels and weird non-fiction books. His non-fiction covered magic, cryptrozoology, language, conspiracy theories, James Joyce, sex, drugs, evolution, reality tunnels, quantum psychology and umpteen other subjects. Come to think of it so did his novels.

The first Wilson book I read was Cosmic Trigger , the first volume of his autobiography. Although it was first published in 1977 I read it in 2000 so his predictions of humanity migrating to space and becoming immortal by the 1990s were even more laughable than when he first made them. Still, dodgy predictions aside, his ideas about the way people get trapped in reality tunnels created by their own preconceptions sounded interesting and so I decided to give his theories a chance. Consequently I moved from being a sceptic to being an open-minded sceptic. Granted, on occasion I fall into the trap warned of in the old saying and I become so open-minded that my brains fall out but I do my best to keep my gullibility in check.

After reading Wilson my other non-fiction reading expanded to include popular science, magic and spirituality. Out of those three science makes most sense to me as a model of reality but dabbling in the other stuff reminds me that what at the time seems a sensible guide to the workings of the universe can later be seen as laughable nonsense. Something that some modern scientists would do well to remember.

Not that I'm particularly convinced by Wilson's idea of a quantum non-local self. Lots of his ideas come across as drug-fuelled hippy wish-fulfilment. (This is one hell of a eulogy, isn't it?) But he encouraged people to step outside their preconceptions. For white people to try and see things from the viewpoint of black people. For men to see things from the viewpoint of women. For liberals to see things from the viewpoint of conservatives. For everyone to just try and understand everyone else.

And for that I remember his work fondly.